Growing bonsai from seeds

Last fall I decided it was time and try to start a bonsai from the very beginning and planted some seeds (oak, birch, JBP and Austrian pine). I wanted to share my results up until now.

The first seeds germinated in February. I didnt notice them at first between all those weeds!

Because I was afraid they would die in freezing temperatures I moved some of the seedlings to a suitable place in my house. I had to repot them into another container to fit on to the shelf near my window. I noticed some of the oaks started to germinate as well and decided to repot a few as well. I think I did this for 1/3 of all the seeds I had. The rest stayed outside.

I wasnt sure if they would survive the repotting but everything continued to grow. In fact, the seedlings inside my house grew better than the seedlings in the garden. I assume its because of the higher temperatures indoors. The first oak started to appear.


At this point I am wondering what the best time is to switch from plain old garden soil to akadama. I wanted do do this asap to start developing a nice root system. Somehow I decided to a second repotting to put the seedlings into akadama after the first set of leaves hardened of. Dont ask me why I think that would be a good time, I just did.

The next step for the seedlings indoors was to make the transition back to the garden again when the temperatures were high enough. I did this in the last week of April.

And this is where we are now:

Shohin size bonsai is what I’m going for so I will keep them for as long as possible in those small containers.

I will keep you guys posted on my progress. And I’m also curious on your experiences with growing bonsai from seeds!

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Great trees @Gem!
Even for shohin you probably want to let them go mad until they have thumb size trunks. Could be worth getting some movement in them now before the trunks get too woody?

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I find planting seeds very rewarding. You dont get large trees fast, mame or shohin, though…
Twenty year old Utah Oak, chewed to a stub 3 summers ago by squrrel…


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My favorite, 3 year old 5 Ponderosa forest (seeds from Colorado P. Collected by Randy Knight)

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Three already have multiple lower limbs started!
Rember to clip the TIP of the main root at first spring replant. All 5 survived second repot and tip clip.
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Just for fun, 3 year old mulberry, from a 18 year old bonsai; both seed.
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My suggestion on growing bonsai from seed is to start dozens of seedlings. Each up-potting is when you throw out the crap. Very few seeds will be worth working with.

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Talented squirrels in your neighbourhood!

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Good one! Didn’t think about creating movement yet. I’ll try to wire some of them to add a little movement. I think I’ll start with the oaks because the pine seedlings are still too small.

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Wow, look at those pines :heart_eyes:. Nice idea to put them in a forest planting. Since I have so many seedlings, I will defenitely create a forest with some of them.

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Agree w @KurtP growing seeds is rewarding and I like your success with yours @Gem there will be loads to choose from!
I do have very few seedlings more less by coincidence but happy to share one that I already see some potential in :slight_smile:
Day when had no idea how to do and what to do I threw some seeds into soil and after something over 4 years I have 3 survives. This two were growing together and when it looked obvious they were 2 different species I decided to separate them.


Roots were one big tangled ball and I even bare root it (I know now - pines right!!) to see whether I can untangle them without cutting a single piece. No was an answer and good 50% had to go which gave me little hopes of survival at least of one of them. The one on the left didn’t make it. The one pushed to the right by the aggressive growth of now the dead one was very weak and lost majority of it’s needles. I just hoped it’ll make it. Spring came and not only candle elongated but there was another tiny at the bottom of “trunk”

This grew so big and heavy that the poor tiny trunk had to bend all the way down which gave it second movement (tough seedling with rough start it is!) it pushed another side branch from the bottom and this year (it will have 5th birthday in October) it ramified first time :slight_smile: now look at the beauty:

It appears to be black pine. I need to think what sort of challenge I can give to it but seems like it will be challenge for me to imitate the nature :slight_smile:

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I grew quite a few pines from seed last year - preparing them in Winter so they would be ready to sow in Spring. (I am in Australia so that was pretty much one year ago). Mostly JBP, but also JRP, Scots and Nigra.
I experimented a bit with the seedlings, I did root work on all of them, but some I cut the roots off completely to try this method for generating a nebari very close to the first set of needles. This technique is used a lot for shohin where you want branching close to the base of the tree. It was pretty nerve racking to cut through a perfectly good seedling, but they survived and I’m looking forward to checking out how the roots developed when I repot in a few weeks.

cut here
apply root hormone
plant back to grow new roots!

I had nice success with a lot of them, I also recommend getting some movement wired in down as low as you can, they will thicken fast and that makes it harder down the track. Here are a few of my JBP that I wired down … these are about 8 months from germination so I had good growth (they were just over 8in before I bent them):

It’s a pretty fun thing to be involved in and clearly addictive … since I have more seeds in the fridge ready to plant out in a couple of weeks. I need more pines … :crazy_face:

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Hello, Question about your soil mix. What did you use for our seed planting soil? and when did you figure was the best time to transplant your seedlings into akadama? Thanks for any info and awesome photo’s.

Kevin F.

I have tried both garden soil and a special seed starter mix. There was no significant difference in the number of seeds that germinated. However, there was a difference when I transplanted them in to a pot. The garden soil is very compact and heavy which made it really hard to not damage the roots when transplanting the seedlings.

As far as it goes for the best time to transplant the seedlings into akadama: it really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. I’m still experimenting with the timing. I’ve transplanted some seedlings to akadama after the second set of leaves (or needles) hardened of, and I still have some seedlings in their original sowing medium. Here are 2 things that I’ve learned so far:

  1. Seedlings that I left in the original sowing medium were significantly larger than the seedlings that were transplanted to akadama. You can really see the difference in the picture below. On the left a seedling that spend the entire previous season in the sowing medium and on the right a seedling that was transplanted to akadama. I saw this difference across the board. I transplanted the seedling on the left to an akadama-lava-pumice mix this spring (see explanation under point 2). See point 2 why I did that

  2. Seedlings I left in the sowing medium had much coarser roots. Because I am aiming for shohin-sized trees, I don’t want the roots to be too coarse. That’s why I transplanted some of my seedlings from last year into a bonsai soil mix this spring. I still have some seedlings left that are growing in the original sowing medium that will be transplanted to akadama in the next few years. I put them in a bigger container to give them even more room to grow.

As you can see there are a few things to consider before transplanting you’re seedlings to akadama. For me it’s all about finding the right balance between a good amount of growth each season and keeping the roots fine enough to eventually make the transition to a bonsai container easier.

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I start a few seeds as you can see in the attached pictures of 1 year old seedlings. I plan to transplant the pines next year to give them a chance to grow a bit stronger. I will do the same for the groups of pyracanth and larch. I plan to transplant the crabapples this year since they are stronger and bigger.

I start the seed in flats using a 50/50 mix of standard seed starter mix and the fines (<1 mm) from sieving pumice and lava. I like the grittier mix since it makes it easier to shake the mix off the roots for pruning. I trim and arrange the roots at each transplanting since I like trees with good nebari. This year I am using a mix of 4 parts pumice, 4 parts aged bark, and 2 parts manure/compost - all sieved to 1 - 8 mm. I hope this will promote strong growth and give me a mix that is easier to remove from the roots during transplanting and arrangement.

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Great thread. I have a bunch of trees growing from seed. I experimented a bit with JBP And found it by far the easiest to germinate. It works fine by standard scarifying (1 day is water, discard the floaters) and stratifying (30-60 days in damp perlite in a ziplock in the fridge) and then planting in soil.

But the paper towel method works even better. Take your stratified seeds, place them on a damp (not sopping) paper towel, fold so you have a single layer over top of the seeds and place in a ziplock under light. In a week or two you will have germinating seeds you can transplant.

. I got around 90% germination w this technique.

Now I have so many I don’t know what I’m going to do with them all.

I have also started a thread on growing nothofagus species from seed so won’t repost that but here is the link …

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Cool! I’ve never tried scarifying the seeds. Is there a specific way to do this? How much do I have to scar the seed to have succes?

Scarification is just the generic term for the process of breaching the seed’s protective outer coating to allow ingress of water so that the cells inside can become metabolically active. For some seeds it can require physical or chemical force to accomplish this but for most they just need to sit for a period of time in water and eventually the water leaks in and they can imbibe.

Then stratification has to occur, a period of time and physical conditions required to break dormancy. There can be short cuts around this though (eg gibberellic acid).

Whenever you are starting out with a new type of seed it’s a good idea to search for sources that describe the best approaches to scarification and stratification for the plant you want to grow. They can be very different.

For most pines you just need a brief (24-48 hours) period in water and if the seed sinks then you are pretty confident the seed has imbibed (and has therefore been ‘scarified’).